Chadwick Boseman gives a tour de force performance as James Brown in Get on Up, an otherwise messy and disappointingly thin celebration of the soul legend’s life.
The film’s flashback/forward structure sees it jump almost randomly between Brown’s impoverished upbringing, his entry into the music world and, ultimately, his garish, glitzy success.
While this might sound like a clever device to contrast the extremes of Brown’s life, it actually stops the film developing the pace and sense of anticipation needed to satisfyingly tell the ultimate ‘rags to riches’ story.
The gulf between the periods are just too much to bridge with a longing stare or a double blink and the overall experience is much like trying to watch a DVD while someone chapter searches back and forth at random to show you the bits they like most.
A more confident film would have challenged the audience the make the journey with Brown, enduring his hardships without the feel good cheat of interrupting them with glimpses of his eventual success.
Boseman neatly captures Brown’s stage persona and rasping voice, but wisely the film makers have him lip synch to Brown’s own singing rather than attempt an impossible impersonation.
Fans will be delighted to know there’s a lot of singing, but at times it seems like there’s too much for the running time, with large chunks of the singer’s life skipped over as a result of ensuring everyone’s favourite Brown song makes the final edit.
His role as a spokesman for black America is largely overlooked and the film simply banks the historical fact that Brown’s music was a huge, world changing phenomenon without really bothering to tell you why.
A star of Brown’s magnitude deserved a better film than this, which is redeemed only by the energy of Boseman’s performance.
Get on Up is released November 21st.